If you’ve ever listened to The Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar,” Rod Stewart’s “The First Cut Is the Deepest,” or Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” then you’ve heard a little snippet of Northwest Alabama. That’s because all three hits were recorded at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in The Shoals, a community of small towns that includes Florence, Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia, and Sheffield. But rich music history isn’t the only thing The Shoals has going for it. With a population of 40,000, Florence is the largest of the four cities. It’s small enough to maintain a quaint community feel, but large enough to offer plenty to do, from hip restaurants and unique boutiques to hiking trails and wine bars. Here’s how to spend the perfect weekend in Florence.
Where to Eat
The pride of Florence, add Odette to the top of your must-visit list and prepare to be amazed. The cozy but upscale neighborhood eatery serves elevated American fare with both Southern and international influences. The menu changes frequently, spotlighting seasonal produce and ingredients from nearby farms. The Deviled Eggs Two Ways (one with pimento cheese and bacon and the other with red curry) is a prime example of the Southern and global mashup, as is the Crispy Gulf Fish with ginger rice, summer vegetables, Szechuan broth, and cilantro-cress salad. Pregame a fantastic dinner with lunch at 306 Barbecue for house-smoked ribs and chicken, or head to the funky and eclectic Wildwood Tavern for a creative hot dog or pizza pie creation. If you need a mid-day pick-me-up to fuel your exploring, Florence has plenty of great places to grab a cup of Joe.
(Rivertown Coffee Co./Facebook)
Try Rivertown Coffee Co. or Dandelion $ Co. Cofee and Tea Bar. Cap off a great day in Florence at The Carriage Wine & Market, a joint wine shop and specialty food store located in the heart of downtown. Toast to a day well spent with a glass of vino!
Where to Play
Head to 3614 Jackson Highway for a tour of Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, the legendary recording studio where artists like Rod Steward, Cher, and Paul Simon helped put The Shoals on the map as a music capital of not only the South but the world. Continue your tour of the arts by visiting the one-of-a-kind Rosenbaum House, the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in Alabama. The 1,540-square-foot home is a great example of Lloyd’s famous Usonian design and features gorgeous floor-to-ceiling windows, beautiful cypress wood, and a dramatic cantilevered roof.
When you’re ready to embrace the great outdoors, spend some time checking out one of the area’s many parks. At McFarland Park, you can fish off the pier or go for a leisurely stroll around the harbor. You can also tour the grounds and small interior of Hellen Keller’s childhood home Ivy Green. Don’t leave Florence without spending ample time moseying around downtown and stopping into any shop that suits your fancy. Make sure to stop into world-renowned fashion designer Billy Reid’s flagship store. For a different type of art, peruse the studio, gallery, and gift shop Stella & Goose.
Where to Stay
(GunRunner Hotel & Spa/Facebook)
After a long day exploring Alabama’s Renaissance City, check into a luxury boutique hotel for a night of relaxation. The GunRunner, housed one of downtown’s many renovated historic buildings, features 10 unique suites, each paying homage to a different portion of the city’s history. Whether you choose the purple and gold Lion’s Den, representing the University of North Alabama, or the effortless stylish Billy Reid suite, all guests should stop for a drink in the downstairs GunRunner Bar. For timeless elegance and plenty of Southern charm, the 24-room Stricklin Hotel may be more your speed. The exposed brick walls, storybook windows overlooking downtown, and plush bedding make the perfect backdrop for a weekend away.